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Jeb Bladine: Battles to maintain 'best suited' notices

Here’s your summer reading assignment: At least browse the Legal Notices on pages 5-6 in Section B of the News-Register.

Today’s include a ballot measure, a property foreclosure, the sale of confiscated property and several Yamhill County land use issues. That’s just a small cross-section of the hundreds of notices required by law to be published in newspapers.

More people should read them. More importantly, however, many people do, thus spreading knowledge about issues of high public interest.

For decades, I’ve joined others in lobbying for appropriate publication of Legal Notices. Nearly 40 years ago, for example, we saved newspaper publication of local government budget information.

Those efforts included what became the backstory for today’s news article about an agreement between the News-Register and the Federal Trade Commission.

Fifteen years ago, to save money, Washington-based companies began publishing all Yamhill County property foreclosure notices in the small-circulation Sheridan Sun. Greed trumped the public interest until our successful lawsuit enforced an Oregon law that requires publication in a newspaper “best suited to provide actual notice.”

Ten years ago, a statewide scam attempted to capture tens of millions of dollars through statewide publication of foreclosures in what we considered fake newspapers. A major lawsuit loomed until the Legislature relegated most foreclosure notices to the Internet for a few years.

Four years ago, again to save money, companies started publishing West County and McMinnville foreclosure notices in the Newberg Graphic. We suggested owners of the Graphic should urge those companies to follow our interpretation of Oregon law, and join us in seeking advice from the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

Instead, they filed a complaint with the FTC.

In time, we learned the FTC doesn’t much care about state laws that aren’t crystal clear. Any suggestion of a shared interpretation, they said — even if quickly abandoned — is a verboten “invitation to collude.”

So, we spent a fascinating year representing ourselves in negotiating stipulations and phrases, word by word, with the FTC Bureau of Competition. Ultimately, the agreement satisfied FTC goals to suppress any suggestion of anti-competitive behavior; it met our goal of retaining rights to battle with greedy foreclosure companies about “best suited” public notices; and we still can engage other Oregon newspapers in that battle.

It’s been a long, interesting campaign to keep legal notices in front of the Oregon public. You can help out by reading them.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregsiter.com or 503-687-1232.

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